Pain is a common problem for many older adults, especially those who suffer from underlying medical conditions. If pain is ignored for too long, it can become chronic and decrease the quality of life, often disrupting daily activities and increasing the need for medication.
Common causes of pain among the elderly include arthritis, bone spurs, degenerative spine disease, and cancer treatment, among many others. Along with managing these diseases, pain management is also imperative for a good quality of life—especially when it comes to physical and mental health.
However, medication is often a part of pain management programs. Although often effective, pain relief medication can be addictive, aside from causing negative side effects. That said, here are alternative pain relief methods that seniors can use when they cannot take any more medication (or when medication is not as effective as it should be):
Therapeutic massage may ease pain through various mechanisms, such as helping painful muscles, tendons, and joints relax, relieving stress, and potentially impeding pain signals from reaching the brain by “closing the pain gate.”
Receiving a massage from an experienced person is the best way to achieve the benefits of a therapeutic massage. Still, family members can also learn to do this for elderly loved ones to provide at least some form of pain relief without medication. Using a massage chair or a handheld body massager can also help.
Using heat/cold therapy on the painful part of the body can be a quick way to ease discomfort. Heat therapy (a heated gel pack, a steamed towel, or a heating pad, etc.) improves blood circulation to a particular area, helping heal damaged tissue and relax stiff muscles. It is, however, not advisable for people with diabetes, deep vein thrombosis, multiple sclerosis, vascular diseases, and dermatitis.
On the other hand, cold therapy reduces the flow of blood to a particular area, which can help reduce inflammation and swelling that leads to pain. Treatment options include ice packs, ice baths, ice massage, and coolant sprays.
Although it may be temporary, both cold and heat therapy can provide almost instant pain relief.
Even though seniors may not move freely as they used to, they can still engage in light exercise to stretch their muscles and ease pain. Apart from the benefit of pain relief, exercising can also help extend elderly adults’ lifespans, enhance their immune systems, and improve their mental health.
Light or gentle exercise is highly recommended for older adults, especially those suffering from chronic pain. Stretching is a great place to start. But other than that, they can also engage in light, low-impact exercises like walking, chair yoga, water aerobics, and tai chi, to name a few.
Acupuncture is a popular alternative method of pain relief. Research shows that it can effectively relieve certain types of chronic pain, including knee pain, lower back pain, and osteoarthritis. Although it may not be effective for all types of pain—or any pain, for that matter—older adults may want to give it a try as an alternative to additional medication.
Meditation can help the brain release endorphins, which are the natural pain relievers of the body. It can also help put the brain in a calmer state that can help reduce pain levels—or at least one’s perception of it. Elderly adults and other people who suffer from either acute or chronic pain can practice meditation (or engage in guided meditation) to ease pain and discomfort, as well as to reduce stress and anxiety.
Natural pain killers
Pain killers don’t always have to be in the form of medication. Nature’s pain killers can also be an effective treatment for inflammation and other related conditions, especially for elderly people prone to negative side effects and whose kidneys might not process medication effectively.
Natural pain killers include turmeric, willow bark, ginger, pumpkin seeds, salmon, blueberries, and virgin olive oil. Seniors living with pain can incorporate these ingredients into food or beverages or consume them in their natural form. Aside from providing pain relief, these ingredients are also inherently healthy and can help fight other conditions, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and kidney disease.
Medication is not the only effective way to treat pain—whether it is acute or chronic. These alternatives can work well for all ages. Still, seniors may find them especially useful if they want to avoid the negative side effects of taking medication, especially when in excess.